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First thoughts: Back on the trail

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Back on the trail: With 15 days until this year's Election Day, and with nearly 400 days until next year's, President Obama will spend much of this week and next week focusing on 2009 and 2010. On Tuesday, he hits a fundraiser for Bill Owens, the Democratic candidate in the special congressional election in New York to replace former Rep. John McHugh (R), who is now serving in the administration. On Wednesday, Obama heads to New Jersey to participate in a rally for incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine (Vice President Biden attends his own rally today for Corzine at 1:00 pm ET in Edison, NJ). On Friday, the president appears at separate fundraisers for Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, both of whom are up for re-election next year and both of whom are extremely vulnerable. Then, next week, Obama will campaign for Creigh Deeds in Virginia. That's at least five campaign/fundraising appearances for the president in the next two weeks. Interestingly, all of this week's appearances are about rallying the Dem base, not swaying independent voters. Corzine is in a three-way race in which he needs Dems only to win; Owens is in a three-way in NY-23, needing just Dems to win; Patrick also is going to be facing a three-way; and then there's Dodd who, in a very blue state, simply needs Dems to rally back to his side.

*** Remember, the force is with you -- or not: Speaking of 2010, Dan Balz sets some smart C.W. for next year's midterms. "Three forces threaten Democrats in the 2010 elections: populist anger on the right, disaffection in the middle and potential disillusionment on the left," Balz wrote. In a way, some of the key races of 2009 provide a glimpse of these issues. We're seeing populist anger on the right rise up in the NY-23 special congressional election; we're seeing disaffection in the middle taking place in Virginia's gubernatorial contest; and we're seeing some limited potential disillusionment on the left in New Jersey, where indie candidate Chris Daggett has gotten the support (for instance) of the Sierra Club.  

*** Shades of '92? But those three forces don't necessarily mean that Republicans will benefit next year. "People are more frightened than they were in '93 and '94," Newt Gingrich told Balz in his piece. "Both by the radicalism of the administration and by the economy." But Newt added, "They're more skeptical of Republicans than they were in '93 and '94. The aftereffect of '06 and '08 is there's not a rush to Republicans." Indeed, 2010 could end up feeling a lot like 1992, when populist anger and public frustration at the deficit spawned the political phenomenon that became Ross Perot, which turned out to benefit Bill Clinton and hurt Bush 41 in that year's presidential contest -- but then benefited Republicans on the House and Senate level. In fact, the REAL beneficiaries in '92 were NEW candidates, reform-minded candidates. That's why Daggett's third-party candidacy in New Jersey is worth watching two weeks from now. Does he end up getting enough of the vote to catapult Corzine to victory, even though the incumbent governor's numbers remain stuck in the high 30s/low 40s? If this happens, Democrats shouldn't take comfort, though: Corzine would have won because disaffected voters opted neither for the Dem nor the Republican -- but instead for the "none of the above" guy (remember Monty Brewster in "Brewster's Millions"?) And in a midterm election, disaffected voters can do three things: stay home, fire the incumbent, or turn to a third party (if available).

*** Tough enough? A narrative that dogged Obama in 2007/2008 -- but which he overcame in winning the Democratic nomination and then the presidency -- is beginning to resurface again: Is he tough enough? In Friday's National Journal, Kirk Victor wrote that "a narrative is emerging among some columnists, pundits, and academics across the political spectrum that Obama's low-key, cool, cerebral style, while reassuring on many levels, lacks the punch that is sometimes needed to advance an agenda in Washington, and in a perilous world." And on Sunday, Maureen Dowd added, "F.D.R. asked to be judged by the enemies he had made. But what of a president who strives to keep everyone in some vague middle ground of satisfaction or dissatisfaction, without ever offending anyone?" This growing narrative is coming mostly from the left. Why? Of course, as Doris Kearns Goodwin would probably remind us, Abraham Lincoln faced similar criticism (many abolitionists and Radical Republicans didn't think Lincoln's opposition to slavery went far enough while president). Then again, when the chips were down, Lincoln was certainly tough (the Emancipation Proclamation, demanding full surrender from the South at the end of the Civil War). 

*** Desperately seeking compromise: Ironically, conservatives are making headway with their supporters by making the case Obama IS tough and radical. So this truly is about those on the left unhappy with the president's addiction to compromise. As we've all witnessed, the president is always in search of the elusive middle ground, whether on health care (public OPTIONAL), Afghanistan (something less than 40,000 more troops?), or the stimulus (lots more in tax cuts than Dems wanted).

*** Howdy, partner: Turning to Afghanistan, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel made some news yesterday, when he said that the Obama administration would postpone any decision to send more combat troops into that country until the disputed election there had been resolved. "'It would be reckless to make a decision on U.S. troop level if, in fact, you haven't done a thorough analysis of whether, in fact, there's an Afghan partner ready to fill that space that the U.S. troops would create and become a true partner in governing the Afghan country," Emanuel said on CNN, per the Washington Post. Meanwhile, a report on the fraud allegations coming from Afghanistan is supposed to be released today. "The results of investigations by the UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) will form the basis of a decision on whether Afghanistan can finally declare a new president or must go to the polls for a second time." And news this morning indicates Karzai is testing out a new campaign theme that could make the president's decision even more difficult: His supporters are calling the election commission report a "foreign interference." If Karzai does NOT accept the results, then what?

*** Drone wars: Staying with Afghanistan, the New Yorker's Jane Mayer has an intriguing piece on the increased predator drone attacks since Obama took office. It's a campaign promise he made, to some controversy, during the primary campaign, by the way. Writes Mayer: "It's easy to understand the appeal of a 'push-button' approach to fighting Al Qaeda, but the embrace of the Predator program has occurred with remarkably little public discussion, given that it represents a radically new and geographically unbounded use of state-sanctioned lethal force. And, because of the C.I.A. program's secrecy, there is no visible system of accountability in place, despite the fact that the agency has killed many civilians inside a politically fragile, nuclear-armed country with which the U.S. is not at war. Should something go wrong in the C.I.A.'s program -- last month, the Air Force lost control of a drone and had to shoot it down over Afghanistan -- it's unclear what the consequences would be."

*** The glass ceiling: In conjunction with the NBC/MSNBC focus this week on women in the workplace and society overall, we here at First Read plan to examine women from various political angles. Today, we take a look today at the last barrier for female U.S. politicians: the presidency. It's not just the fact that there has not been a woman president yet; it's the fact that there have been so few women presidential CANDIDATES. Not only did it take the two major parties 24 years to see a woman make it on a national ticket (1984 to 2008), it's still not obvious any women will be serious candidates in 2012 or 2016. Sure, there's lots of speculation surrounding Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton. But after them? (There was a dearth of women candidates for president between '84 and '08 as well, with Elizabeth Dole being the only serious candidate and she didn't make it to Iowa). One of the main reasons why we've had so few female presidential possibilities is because not enough women have become governors, which still remains the best stepping stone to the presidency. But this could change after 2010. If Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) wins the Texas governor's race, if Alex Sink (D) wins in Florida, and if Meg Whitman (R) wins in California, that could elevate both into the discussion for 2012 and beyond… By the way, don't miss the "Meet the Press" discussion of Shriver's report.

*** Where things stand: According to Rutgers University's Center for American Women and Politics, there are six female governors (Jan Brewer of AZ, Jodi Rell of CT, Linda Lingle of HI, Jennifer Granholm of MI, Bev Perdue of NC, and Chris Gregoire of WA), 17 women U.S. senators (Lisa Murkowski of AK, Blanche Lincoln of AR, Barbara Boxer of CA, Dianne Feinstein of CA, Mary Landrieu of LA, Susan Collins of ME, Olympia Snowe of ME, Barbara Mikulski of MD, Debbie Stabenow of MI, Amy Klobuchar of MN, Claire McCaskill of MO, Kay Hagan of NC, Jeanne Shaheen of NH, Kirsten Gillibrand of NY, Kay Bailey Hutchison of TX, Patty Murray of WA, and Maria Cantwell of WA), and there are 73 congresswoman. 

*** 2009 watch: Finally, turning to the upcoming gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia, Jon Corzine (not surprisingly) picked up the New York Times' endorsement (Daggett finished "second" in the editorial), while Creigh Deeds (again, not surprisingly) got the Washington Post's nod (though Post went out of its way to give back-handed praise to Bob McDonnell, perhaps a nod to the inevitable?). Meanwhile, McDonnell's campaign touted the endorsement it got from Hampton Roads' Daily Press, which backed Tim Kaine in '05. By the way, was Sunday's Politico piece on the Virginia race and how Deeds to come back really just the first of what could be many pre-bituaries?

Countdown to Election Day 2009: 15 days
Countdown to MA Special Primary: 50 days
Countdown to MA Special Election: 92 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 379 days

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